Born: Kettering circa 1836, died: 1885
In the late 1860’s, Edwin Dadley
worked as a clicker in the shoe trade. He was critical of the Leicester
Co-op for poor auditing and a ‘grovelling view of co-operation,’ which did
not see beyond the provision of ‘bread and cheese.’ He believed that the
Co-operative movement should desire the moral, mental and social elevation
of the working classes. It should have “principles that recognise the
interests of capital and labour as one – principles uniting capital,
brains, hearts and heads, to lift men to their proper station, that teach
employers to regard their employees as their brothers, as men with hopes,
aspirations and like passions with themselves…” In 1873, Dadley
was elected to the LCS board and was a member until 1877.
In 1872, Dadley was involved in
setting up a local boot and shoe co-operative. It had 120 members and was
about to set up in business when the proposal to establish up a C.W.S.
boot shoe works in Leicester was made. This was welcomed by Dadley and his
society and he then became John Butcher’s assistant at the C.W.S. works on
Duns Lane. On Butcher’s resignation in 1878, Dadley was appointed manager.
Whilst on business in Paris in 1885, he died suddenly and Butcher was
re-appointed in his place.
In 1876, he was fined 10s for failing
to have one his seven children vaccinated. In admitting the offence he
said he would be doing wrong if allowed the child to be vaccinated. He was a deacon at Emanuel Church and
was an active worker in the cause of temperance through various total
abstinence societies. Dadley’s wife Anna (born circa 1838) was a member of the LCS
education committee and president of the Co-op Women’s Guild during the
Sources: Midlands Free Press, 27th
November 1869, Leicester Co-operative Record, August 1885, Leicester
9 December 1876, 1 August 1885, Benjamin Jones,
Co-operative Production, 1894, Leicester Co-operative Society,
Co-operation in Leicester
Dorothy Davis was a former teacher
and was a social studies lecturer when she was first elected to the City
Council in 1970. She was the last chairman of the education committee
before education was passed to the County Council. In 1972, she was one of
nine Labour councillors who rebelled over issue of Ugandan refugees. They
took issue with the ‘no room at the inn’ being approach taken by the
leadership of the Labour group. She was subsequently elected as a County
Sources: Valerie Marett,
Immigrants Settling in the City, 1987, personal knowledge
Born: Ladywood, Birmingham, September 14th 1860,
Lewis Donaldson received his early education at
Christ Church Cathedral School, Oxford, where he was a
member of the Cathedral Choir. He later entered Merton College, Oxford, to
take Holy Orders. After having been ordained in 1884, he served in some of
the poorer London curacies, where he began a long and detailed study of
social questions to see how their solution could be united with the
Christian faith. He married the daughter of Alderman Eagleston of Oxford
in 1885, and after a year as rector of the colliery village of Nailstone
in Leicestershire, became vicar of St. Mark’s Church, Leicester in 1896.
Here, he initiated and supervised the painting of the sanctuary murals -
seven large canvas panels painted in oils by J. Eadie Read of Gateshead on
Tyne, depicting Christ as the Apotheosis of Labour. In a pamphlet
describing the murals, Rev. Donaldson wrote:
“The Church of St. Mark’s stands
in a town of 244,255 souls, of whom the greater number belong to what
are termed ’the working classes’. St. Mark’s is one of the chief working
class parishes of the town, and contains towards 15,000 souls. In this
parish there is represented much of the tragedy and pathos, shame and
horror of modern social conditions - infant mortality, child labour,
underpayment or sweating of men and women, decadence of physical life,
consumption and premature death....”
Rev. F. L. Donaldson was one of the
founder members of the Church Socialist League, and between 1896 and 1906
was chairman of the Leicester Branch of the Christian Social Union. He was
also editor of ’Goodwill’, a Journal of International Friendship, and led
a deputation of Church of England clergy in 1913 to the then Prime
Minister, Asquith, on the subject of women’s suffrage. But it as an
organiser and leader of the Leicester Unemployed March that he is
Before the march, he wrote to Randall
Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, asking respectfully whether he
would receive a deputation of unemployed marchers at Lambeth, but the
request was refused. Donaldson replied in critical tones and the whole
correspondence was published, causing much comment and arousing public
opinion. Some believed that this later cost Donaldson the Bishopric of
During World War One, Canon Donaldson remained constant
in his Christian pacifist position, and suffered a good deal of opprobrium
from his wife as well as from his parishioners. In November 1914, he
declared War betrays the innocent, crushes the weak, violates purity,
destroys and devastates fair and noble cities and wrecks their habitations
and he declared his conviction that, the real sin of the church is not
that she allows war, but that she tolerates the state of things that leads
In 1918, he was transferred from Leicester to the comparative
quiet of the countryside of Peterborough as rector of Paston within
Walton. In 1921 he was instituted Canon residentiary of Peterborough
In Ramsay MacDonald’s first episcopal
appointment in 1924, he was made a canon of Westminster Abbey, where he
acted as President of the London Council for the Prevention of War in
1927, and Chairman of the League of Clergy for Peace from 1931-40. Canon
Donaldson steeped himself in the traditions and history of Westminster
Abbey, and when approaching his nineties could be seen piloting round
little groups of visitors who had no idea of his identity.
Sources: The Times, 8th
October 1953 (obit), Barbara Butler, Vicar of the Unemployed, 2005,
Malcolm Elliott: Opposition to the First World War: The Fate of
Conscientious Objectors in Leicester
Oxford, circa 1862, died 1950
Before coming to Leicester, Louise
Donaldson was the first woman magistrate of the Soke of Peterborough.
Louise Donaldson was active in the National Union of Women Workers (later
known as the National Council of Women) She was also involved with the
formation of the Leicester Health Society in 1906. She was a member of the
Leicester & Leicestershire Women’s Suffrage Society and active in the
Women’s Labour League, becoming its president for 1914-15. Chairing its
annual conference in 1917, she told the delegates that:
"we need urgently that the ban of subjection
should be removed from womanhood itself as being a disastrous hindrance to
the State, a clog artificial and absurd to our usefulness, and a serious
injury to the status of wifehood and motherhood. It will seem to us that
had women had their share in the management of affairs in our own and
other countries, such a mess could not have come about."
Although she did not enjoy domestic
work and had a servant, it was her view that a wife and mother should be
paid directly by the state for her work to enable to her to give more time
to her family.
Sources: Barbara Butler, Vicar of
the Unemployed, 2005, census returns, Western Mail, 23rd January 1917,
Common Cause, 26 January 1917
13th June 1898, died: 12 December 1971 (Labour Party)
Terence Donovan served in France in
1917-18 in the Bedfordshire regiment and later joined the RAF. After the
war, he entered the legal profession and was called to the bar in 1924. He
was selected as Labour's prospective candidate for Leicester East in 1938,
but war halted elections. In March 1939, he wrote:
Anything less British than the National Government’s
treatment of those gallant defenders of democracy in Spain would be
difficult to imagine, The recognition of General Franco has given pleasure
to few people apart from those who contemplate with indifference, of with
joy, the triumph of Fascist tyranny. There is deep misgiving even among
the Government’s own supporters .... Even if we were not allowed actively
to help the cause of democratic freedom in Spain, there was absolutely no
reason why should hold Spain’s hands behind her back while Mussolini and
Hitler administered the knock-out from in front.
1945, he was elected as MP for Leicester East and was later sent on the
British Government's legal mission to Greece in 1945. He continued to
persue his legal career and in 1949, he became a director of the
Daily Mirror Newspapers Ltd. Following boundary
changes, he was elected for North East Leicester in February 1950.
However, by July he had resigned in order to become a High Court judge.
During 1960-63 he was Lord Justice of Appeal and during 1965-68 he served
on the Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers Associations.
Sources: Leicester Mercury, 3rd March
1939, Who Was Who 1971-80, Vol VII
Born: c1903 (Communist Party)
Bill Duncan was communist activist
during the 1930s and 1940s in Leicester. He had joined the Communist Party
in 1922 in Scotland and become a full-time worker for the Young Communist
League. He was sent by the Party to the International Lenin School in
Moscow in 1929-30 The I.L.S. was established to train British Communists
for leadership positions, establishing a core of within the Party who
would always be loyal to the Soviet Union.
Bill Duncan was expelled from the
school for embezzlement. According to Dorothy Adams he came to Leicester
straight from Russia and was ‘full of it.’ (Russia) His daughter arrived
with him knowing no English worth speaking of. He tried to get back into
industry, but was thrown out of work every time he was discovered to be a
Communist. He was barred from being a delegate to the Trades Council from
the local AEU branch No 1, because of his membership of the C.P. He went
to London in the 1940s, got a job in management and left the party.
Sources: Leicester Mercury 20th
July 1938, Labour History Review April 2003, Forging the Faithful,
D.M. Adams interview, Leicester Oral History Archive 1983
Caythorpe, Notts, died: July 5th 1912 aged 60 (Secularist)
Secularist shoemaker, Charles Eagle, was a
dominant figure in the Anti Vaccination League.
(along with Michael Wright and the Liberal MP
P.A. Taylor) In May 1876, Charles Eagle and
Frank Palmer were jailed for ten days for disobeying the law on
vaccination. When they were released they went in a procession, dressed in
their prison clothes, to the
Market Place and received a homage of 15,000 cheering townsmen. On the
many banners was an emblematical painting of an eagle soaring over
the head of a doctor (described as " The disappointed doctor") with a
child in its mouth. The doctor was represented as wielding a lancet, while
the eagle appeared to be making its way towards a " stone jug," indicating
Charles Eagle was imprisoned again. By 1885, nearly 3,000 people were
awaiting prosecution under the 1871 Vaccination Act and on 23 March 1885
some 100,000 protestors processed from the Temperance Hall
to the Market Place where copies of the Vaccination Acts were burnt in
full view of the Mayor and Chief Constable of Leicester.
In 1887, Charles Eagle was imprisoned again for failing to pay a fine for
not having his children vaccinated. The police did not seize his furniture,
but 'took him from his bead and marched him two miles to prison.'
The 1885 demonstration had led to a royal commission that
was appointed to investigate the anti-vaccination grievances as well as to
hear evidence in favour of vaccination. The commission sat for seven
years, hearing extensive testimony. Its report in 1896 concluded that
vaccination protected against smallpox, but as a gesture to the anti-vaccinationists
it recommended the abolition of cumulative penalties. A new Vaccination
Act in 1898 removed cumulative penalties and introduced a conscience
clause, allowing parents who did not believe vaccination was efficacious
or safe to obtain a certificate of exemption. This act introduced the
concept of the ‘conscientious objector’ into English law.
was also a co-operator who had a long association with Equity shoes and
was a member of the Trades Council. He was active in support of the Trades
Council 'Labour' candidates for the Town Council in 1893. He died of T.B.
and was cremated and then buried in Welford Road cemetery - the ceremony
being conducted by the Secularist F.J. Gould who said that four words
summed up Charles Eagle: "He was honesty itself."
Source: Leicester Chronicle, 20 May 1876, 17 June 1893,
13 July 1912
1895, died: London 26th September 1981
Secularist shoemaker, Charles Eagle's unvaccinated sons, Ronald
(c1889-1947) and Edgar Eagle were also members of the Secular Society.
Edgar was a
Clerk at Equity Boot & Shoe works in Leicester. During World War One, the
brothers were very active in of the Union of Democratic Control and became
conscientious objectors. They were arrested under the Military Service Act
for neglecting to report to the barracks at South Wigston in May 1916.
18 other men appeared in court with them on the same
day. They had applied to the Appeal Tribunal for total exemption, but were
refused and granted 'non-combatant status' and were liable to be called-up
into the army, but not to be trained to use weapons. They believed that
any alternative service still supported the war effort and in effect
supported the immoral pursuit of war. All of the men were fined 40s and
handed over to the military authorities.
Edgar had been ordered to join the Non Combatant Corps
Northern 3 Unit in June 1916, where he was given 28 days Field Punishment
no2 for disobeying orders. This involved being tied in chains and shackled
to a heavy object, often a wheel. In a second court martial at Catterick
in April 1917 he was given two years hard labour at Wormwood Scrubs. After
three months, however, he was sent to a work centre set up in Dartmoor
Ronald Eagle spent 56 days in detention in Stafford
Barracks for refusing to turn out on parade. After serving time at
Wormwood Scrubs he was also transferred to Dartmoor.
In 1919, Edgar was a member of the Management Committee
of Leicester Cooperative Society and was that year elected to the
Leicester & District Executive Committee of the Workers Educational
Association (WEA) having been an active member of classes in that Branch.
In 1926, he went to Ruskin College and went on to study part-time at
University College, Nottingham achieving a B.Sc. (Econ.) (Lond.) In 1929,
he was appointed Staff Tutor in Economics in the Department of Adult
Education, at University College, Nottingham and remained there until his
retirement in retirement in 1960. He published a history of the East
Midland WEA in 1954 and of the The Leicester Mechanics’ Institute in 1960.
Source: Leicester Daily Post, 25th May 1916, Annual Report of Leicester U.D.C., 1916, Malcolm Elliott: Opposition to the First
World War: The Fate of Conscientious Objectors in Leicester, Denise
Pakeman, New Ruskin Archives.
Born: Huncote, Leicestershire c1808, died Germantown,
28th December 1878 (Framework knitter)
Joseph Elliott was orphaned at
the age of four and lived in Huncote with his uncle Joseph Freer until he
was 21 when he married Martha Jeays. He had been ‘put to the stocking
frame’ at the age of seven and moved to Leicester c1829. It is not known
if he had any schooling, but he was very literate and wrote many petitions
and flyers. well. The was also an able speaker.
Like many framework knitters he
suffered dire hardship during the 1840s. He wrote that on more that one
one occasion, when his family had no food, he took the furniture out of
his house and sold it to buy bread rather than go to the parish for
assistance. He said that typhus fever had visited his house three times
and by 1852 he had buried three children and had six children still
living, one of whom was disabled. He lived in Neale Street which was not
far from Wharf Street and close to the home of his friend
George Buckby. In 1847, he worked
at Warner’s factory on Archdeacon Lane.
Joseph was a Chartist and
supporter of Feargus O’Connor and around 1844 he named one of his sons
Feargus. By 1848, he had become one of the leading lights in the Chartist
movment and was on a county wide committee of three with Sketchley from
Hinckley and Skevington from Loughborough to prepare for ‘contingencies.’
He was also active in the
Framework Knitters Union and by the early 1850s, he was secretary of the
Leicester Framework Knitters Committee. At this time both he and George
Buckby campaigned against frame rents and the use of truck and stoppages
from wages in the hosiery trade. Both men were a thorn in the side of the
middle men, hosiers and of the Guardians and both were active in support
of the more Radical Liberals.
The newly rebuilt workhouse had
been opened in 1851 and the Guardians, now dominated by Liberals, had
decided to administer the full force of the Poor Law. This involved the
seperation of the sexes and families and the division of the workhouse
inmates into various categories. In 1852, Elliott and Buckby wrote a paper
detailing all the cases of abuse and injustices to inmates of the
workhouse and they put it before the Guardians. These included the
confinement of a man in the 'dark hole' for no good reason, that soup
served was not fit for consumption, that the master had cruelly beaten
seven boys, that he and the matron of the workhouse were drunk on several
occasions, that a woman of 76 was kept on bread and water for two days and
then locked up because she refused to work because she was ill.
Allegations of the masters’ drunkenness were also made by the workhouse
The Workhouse Master and his
supporters proceeded to malign Elliott’s character. Elliot was accused of
absconding from the workhouse in 1847-1848 and leaving his family to be
supported by the parish. He was also accused of being drunk when he
applied for relief. The Guardians made public the sums that they had
allegedly spent on supporting the Elliott family. Joseph responded with a
letter giving details of his life and circumstances.
Various respectable citizens
(including John Markham, William Jones and Thomas Emery) wrote to say that
the accusations were a fabrication and they provided testimony from
several winesses to show that Joseph had not absconded and that much of
the relief obtained was for the benefit of Elliott’s disabled son. They
also criticised the guardians for the mixing of private circumstances into
a public matter.
The Guardians discussed the
allegations made by the schoolmaster, but as far as Joseph Elliott was
concerned they 'knew what sort of a character he was… he had
given them enough trouble already and he was was not a person of credit.’
They resolved to take no notice of Elliott & Buckby’s letter and then
sacked the schoolmaster.
The same year Joseph Elliott
successfully brought charges against a hosiery bagman (an agent of
middleman) under the Truck Act where a stockinger was being paid by the
bagman with meat, bread and candles. Presumably this was done on behalf of
the Framework Knitters Committee. The organisation of the Leicester’s
hosiery industry had many parallels with the 21st century gig
economy. Framework Knitters were not directly employed and had to rent
their knitting frames (their app) Middlemen or bagmen collected frame
rents distributed the raw materials and collected the finished work and
handled the money. Frame rents had to be paid whether there was work or
not and were usually done so via stoppages from wages.
By April 1853, a petition
signed by 12,000 in Leicestershire, 7,000 in Nottinghamshire, and 6,000 in
Derbyshire,had been collected in support of Sir Henry Halford's bill to
regulate frame-rents and charges. In 1853, Joseph Elliott was chairman of
the Framework Knitters Committee and Bucky was the secretary and they led
the agitation against the rents.
In March 1853, he had an
interview with the Right Hon. E. Cardwell, at the Board of Trade, in
London to give evidence of the heavy deductions made from knitters’ wages.
The deputation consisted George Buckby, Joseph Elliott and Thomas Winters
of the Glove Union.
In the winter of 1855-1956,
there was widespread destitution in the town. At a public meeting Elliott
spoke of the need to give the poor, not soup, but bread,coal and meat as
well. In 1855, he and Buckby organised meetings in Leicester and Hinckley
opposing the high price of bread. Elliott also acted as secretary to a
woman's only meeting on the same issue. See
Both Elliott and Buckby were
motion to allow the Sunday opening of museums and opponents of proposals
to close pubs on Sundays. That, the opinion of this Meeting,
all places of rational
instruction might be opened after Morning Service on Sundays without any
impropriety or desecration of the Sabbath, …….it is the imperative duty of
every lover of liberty of conscience to ensure …effective opposition to
the perpetual meddling of the Sabbatarians who so recklessly attempt to
deprive the working classes of their just rights…."
In 1856, they convened a
meeting to condemn the Council for refusing to allow a band to play on
Sunday afternoons on the racecourse. (Victoria Park)
By the mid 1850s, the Whig
supporting Leicester Chronicle used the term Chartist to denigrate anyone
who supported the estension of the franchise. As far as it regards the
important question of the Suffrage, Sir J. Walmsley is a rampant Chartist.
Were his views to be carried out, the legislation of this great country
would be lodged in the band, of such men as Messrs. Buckby and Elliott,
and the foundations of society would be overturned.
The Chronicle ran a story
suggestuing that Elliott and Buckby were being paid 30/- a day and
frequently referred to them as agitators. It is not suprising that they
found it difficult to earn a living.
After the defeat of Henry
Halford’s bill to regulate frame rents, he and Buckby were victimised by
local employers and both emigrated to the U.S.A. They arrived in
Philadelphia February, 1857 and settled in the hosiery town of Germantown
where there were 800 framework knitters. In 1857, Elliott provided a vivid
description of life, work and politics in the Philadelphia, which was at
the time in the midst of a financial crisis.
I very much regret to see
parties still arriving from the counties of Leicester and Nottingham…… I
am told that many would return to England if they had the means to do so.
When I look upon men and women who have been here five or six years, I
feel surprised. Those who were stout, healthy, and robust when at home,
appear to be almost used up; they seem to have aged 15 or 20 years. I
never in tbe course of life saw people look so thin, sallow, and dried up;
the broiling sun, the piercing frost, and the great and sudden changes of
tbe weather, will soon take the mettle out of the stoughtest of John
Bull's children, and leave them but mere skeletons of what they once were.
In 1860, his wife Martha died
and Joseph remarried and ended up running a hardware store.
Despite periods of unemployment, in 1871 Elliott and Buckby raised £24 which they sent back to Leicester for
the proposed monument to John Biggs. The statue, in Welford Place, was
unveiled on 15th April 1873.
Leicester Journal 30th April 1852,
8, 15, 22 & 29 May, 3 July 1852, 28 April 1855, 8 December 1855, 23 February 1856,
5th July 1856,
14 November 1857, Leicester Journal
15 September 1871, Leicester Chronicle, 22
May 1852, 12 January 1856, 28 March 1857, 18
Morning Post 17 March 1853, Justice 7th March 1903
Emery's 1849 essay was republished in 2010
The Leicestershire Movement, 1850
Thomas Emery at the laying of the Clock Tower
foundation stone, 16th March 1868
Born Middleton Cheney, N’hants 4th February 1821, died: August 1868 (Owenite
Thomas' father William Emery was a
maker of knotted stockings in Middleton Cheney, not far from Banbury. He
sent Thomas to school and Thomas' talent as a writer was recognised by one
'old gentleman' who sent for him to write out various thymes he had
composed. He was apprenticed as framework knitter and became a
glove hand. This
branch of the hosiery trade provided better wages than any other.
He was studious and was known to sit at his frame with
Although his obituary states that the Emery family came to Leicester in 1837,
there is no evidence that they came with him. The 1841 census shows him
lodging with a couple in Neale Street, close to Russell Square on Wharf
He must have become an Owenite soon
after Robert Owen's visit to Leicester in 1838, since the following year,
Emery, aged 18, was writing to the New Moral World. By this time he was attending meetings, classes and discussions
run by the local Leicester Branch of the Owenite Universal Community
Society of Rational Religionists.
In 1843, he was secretary of the Owenite branch, now
renamed the Rational Society. About the same time he became active
in the Anti-Persecution Union which had been formed to defend those arrested
for blasphemy. The APU, aimed to "assert and maintain the right of free
discussion, and to protect and defend the victims of intolerance and
Although Emery seems to have had no
position within the Chartist movement, he was a supporter of universal
suffrage which included women rather than the universal suffrage for men
only which was one of the Chartists' demands. In 1847,
writing as T.E. in Holyoak's Reasoner, he reported that at meeting of
Liberal candidates the question on extending the suffrage to women "was
treated with evasive levity by the candidates and was met with by general
laughter and derision from a crowded assembly of your Radical 'lords.'"
He was also scathing that in the metropolis of nonconformity,
professed dissenters who wanted civil and religious liberties for
themselves, were ready to deny those same rights to those of no-religion.
He described the blasphemy laws as state interference with the
consciences of others. In 1848, his membership of the Mechanics
Institute was terminated after he wrote comments in favour of opening the
Institute on a Sunday.
In 1849, three of his essays were
published as pamplets. His first essay "The Causes of
Crime: its Prevention and Punishment." won a two guinea prize
offered by Samuel Stone, the Town Clerk, in
an essay competition. The subject was "The Causes of
Crime: its Prevention and Punishment." It was well received and
had a favourable review in the Northern Star. In the pamphlet he argued
that Ignorance is the Parent of Crime and to counter it a
National Secular Education system was required. He hope that with
education " an advanced state of civilisation will be attained; in
which the rare victim of criminality will receive. other treatment than
vindictive violence and sanguinary execution."
This was published as a
pamphlet along with two other
essays on education and wages. In his pamphlet on education,
Educational Economy : or State Education Vindicated from the Votaries of
Voluntaryism, he argues for State Education rather than the voluntary provision of
schools. It was his view that the government should provide the
best secular education for every individual, so that each shall have fair
start in the world. In is review of the pamphlet, the Leicester Chronicle
made the point that despite having none of the advantages of college or
he writes and argues with an ease and force which
many of his more privileged fellow-men may envy. The reviewer
concludes by saying That men possessing such abilities should be found
in the ranks of one of the worst remunerated departments of British
industry, and that they should have to carry on a constant warfare with
poverty, are among the wonders and anomalies of this age.
In 1850, Emery had set up in business,
running a bookshop and newsroom at 148
Belgrave Gate, close to Leicester's worst slums. The business prospered
and for a time he gave daily readings of the Globe newspaper in the
evening, enabling those who could not read to keep up with the news.
During this period Emery started two or three penny weeklies. One was
named another The
Movement (1850) of which ran for 19 editions and ran out of
money. In 1853, his Leicester Fly Sheet made its appearance.
No copies are known to have survive, but at least three editions are
"A Comic History of Leicester" which was illustrated by an
artist and published in 1851. In 1850, he supported Thomas Cooper’s progress union and in 1851 he became
the secretary of Society Of Theological Reasoners In Leicester.
This was obviously borrowed from the title of Holyoak's paper the
Reasoner and Theological Examiner. By 1853 the paper was re-titled
The Reasoner and Secular Gazette and its supporters, a mix of
freethinkers and former Owenite socialists
were calling themselves the Leicester Secular Society. They met at Emery's
News Room on Belgrave Gate for lectures and discussion. Along with the
Unitarian missionary Joseph Dare, he was an agent for the People's
1853 was a time when it was hoped
that a parliamentary bill would end the iniquitous system of charging
workers rent for knitting frames - even when there was no work. Emery
produced a statement of reasons why Halford’s bill should be supported.
Despite a 13,000 strong petition, one of Leicester’s two radical M.P.s,
Richard Gardner, voted against the Bill. Emery then became active trying to keep
working class support for Gardner in the hope that he would deliver on the
questions of a New Reform Bill and on National Education. Unfortunately
Gardner died in 1856.
Emery played a prominent part in the
affairs of the St. Margaret's select vestry. This was the governing body
of a parish, the members generally having a property qualification and
being recruited more or less by co-option. It considerable powers which
were eventually taken over by local authorities. In 1836, St Margaret's
had levied a church rate and had taken proceedings against 21 dissenters
who refused to pay. In 1837, the dissenters obtained control of the vestry
and refused to authorize a church rate.
By the mid 1850s, the Secular Society had ceased its
regular meetings at Emery's shop and was seeking to reconstitute itself.
This may well have been the result his commitment to the Midlands Free
Press which was a substantial enterprise and initially published in
was active in opposition to the Sabbatarians and in support of the radical
Sir Joshua Walmsley's proposals for the Sunday opening of museums.
In 1855, he opposed attempts to close pubs on Sunday because he saw Sunday
closing as an infringement of individual liberty. In 1857, he acted as secretary to the public
women's meetings called by
Anne Wigfield and
Woodford to consider women’s property rights and was active in the
meeting of 'non-electors' who were calling for the extension of the
Emery played the
violin and took part in the performance of such works as the Messiah or
Creation as well as playing quadrilles and country dances. Along with John
Sladen on cello, he must have been the band that playd in the Owenite
Social Institution and he subsequently played in events organised by the
Joseph Dare discussion group.
In 1858, Emery became the
founding editor of the South Midlands Free Press and used the paper
to support the Liberal cause. He was the local correspondent of
the Morning Star and the Daily News and the first to
introduce the London penny daily newspapers into Leicester.
From the late 1840s, the
Liberals had been divided into two rival camps: the radicals and the
so-called 'moderates.' From the mid 1850s, some of the
evangelising clergy had switched their support from the Radicals to the Whigs or
'moderates.' In 1861, Emery was part of a delegation of ‘extreme Liberals’
who invited the radical P.A. Taylor to stand for Leicester.
He did not win and the split Liberal vote gave the Tories a victory.
his support to the Northern cause against slavery during the American
civil war and was a member of the All Saints Open discussion group from
1849 until his death from heart disease.
In 1863, a testimonial was organised on his behalf and
the press notice made the point that he was one of those who helped heal
the split in the Liberal Party, ensuring the electoral success of an
undivided party and the election of Taylor and after his
election he remained in the M.P.’s confidence. Following Emery's
death P.A. Taylor MP, made a contribution of £100 (£12,000 in 2019) to a
fund established to help Mrs Emery and her family.
In 1863 he was one of the prime movers of bringing
Garibaldi to Leicester. In 1867, he took a prominent role in another
campaign over the price of bread, largely about 3½ lb loaves being sold as
4lb and was was among a deputation of Leicester Liberals who met with Gladstone.
His first wife Elizabeth
Pickard died in
1850 aged 33 and shortly after he married
Millicent Lewitt at the registrar's office. She
came from a Unitarian clergyman’s family and this may explain this part of his obituary: “His history is of a self
made man. By slow degrees he made his way out of the labyrinth of darkness
and unbelief and attended services at the Great Meeting.”
A year before his death, at a conference on why the working classes do not
attend places of worship he said that the working man:
would see the expounders of his creed supported by an
ecclesiastical establishment - the parsons taking sides with his
oppressors. He imagines he can see it all. It is a cunningly-devised
fable, to cheat him out of present advantages by exciting fallacious hopes
for the future. Infallibility fails him, his faith gives way, and be has
no disposition to attend at public worship.
Emery was at the heart of Leicester
radical politics for many years and was active in garnering working class support for the
radical wing of the Liberal Party. His second wife
Millicent (born c1815) continued as an active supporter
of the radical cause well into the 1870s. The are both buried in plot 347
in the unconsecrated part of Welford Road Cemetery.
Sources: New Moral World, November
9th 1839, The
Reasoner, Vol 3, 1847, vol 10, June 1851,vol 20, 9th March 1853, 1856, vol 25 1860,
Northern Star, 13th October 1849, Leicestershire Mercury,
8th January 1848, 21
April 1849, 6
July, 9 November 1850, 14th May 1853, 18th April, 3rd October 1863, Leicester Journal, 30 November 1849,
8th April 1864, The Midlands Free Press, 22nd
August 1868 (obit), The Causes of Crime: Its Prevention and Punishment,
Thomas Emery, J. Ayer, High-street, Leicester, 1849, also included in
Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926, Gale Ecco, 2010, Comic
History of Leicester, Arthur Hall & Co.
1851, Leicester Chronicle,
31st March 1849, 24th February 1855,
9th March 1867, 22nd
August 1868, VCH, The City of Leicester (1958)
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© Ned Newitt Last revised:
April 10, 2021.
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